Moving from Android to Windows Phone 7

When I got my Samsung Epic last fall, I thought Android was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Having updated from Blackberry (two years on the Curve 8330, then two years before that on the “brick” of a 7100i), Android seemed like a dream come true: A touch display with a large, crystal-clear screen, assorted multimedia capabilities, Wi-Fi hotspot, etc. And for a while, my Android device was my new vade mecum, replacing my erstwhile MP3 player and dedicated digital camera.

But the luster soon faded. Android is still something of a Wild West platform. Too much doesn’t work quite right. Too many apps are too buggy to run, leaving an inconsistent look-and-feel to the operating environment and leading to endless frustration and battery yanking. Google pervades the OS; without selling your soul to Mountain View, you cannot take full advantage of the device. Given the challenges from Google on privacy and data aggregation, the less that company knows about me, the better.

The worst part, though, was battery life. The Epic would work five or six hours on a full charge. If I unplugged it at 8 a.m., I’d need to plug it in by 2 p.m. or it would die. And that’s with not-exactly-intensive use. As it happens, the problem isn’t solely Samsung’s fault; apparently, there’s a glitch in the Epic’s programming that forces it to look for cell signals when it loses one. And Sprint’s network, which had been great for me for nine years, took a noticeable dive in quality in the West Michigan market this past January. So, most of the battery drain is the result of an unpatched bug on a now-spotty network. Not fun.

On Friday, I took delivery of a replacement device — an HTC HD7 from T-Mobile. The phone runs Windows Phone 7 (with a WP 7.5 Mango update due in the next few weeks). So far, I get a solid 12 to 14 hours of battery life under the same usability conditions as I would subject the Epic. I went a full day yesterday — unplugged at 8:15 a.m. and when I plugged it in at 10:30 p.m., I still had juice remaining. And that was after several phone calls, text messages, emails, Web browsing, an hour of listening to music via Bluetooth and 45 minutes of continuous screen use while I was reading some RSS feeds.

The thing about the HD7 (and more to the point, WP7) that delights me is the responsiveness of the OS. Microsoft appears to have taken a page from Apple’s play book in setting very tight OEM requirements on the device manufacturers. No bloatware, no special device branding. Just pure WP7. And the minimum tech specs to run WP7 are solid: So far, no matter what I do, I haven’t seen a single stutter or system slowdown. No crashes, no hangs, no trouble.

In addition, I can sync real-time and with no challenges to my OneNote notebooks — long since stored on my Windows Live SkyDrive — and interact seamlessly with Facebook and several different email accounts.

Much of the usual customization that users expect from Microsoft products seem hidden. Unlike the Android, and more like WebOS and iOS, the user has fewer options to tweak the OS or apps. Whether this is a good thing is an open question. I’m a “tweaker” — but if the OS runs smoothly and I can do what I need to do, I may accept a certain loss of control in favor of a consistently high quality of experience. 

There are a few minor disappointments — the Marketplace is still on the anemic side, and I wish the Zune media player had more capability — but for the core features I’ve always needed from a smart phone, WP7 delivers far better than Android 2.2 or Blackberry OS ever did. And with Windows 8 on the horizon, I am confident that Windows Phone apps will come into their own.

Count me as a satisfied customer of Microsoft and T-Mobile. Here’s looking to the Mango update.